NEW YORK – Rahul Gandhi's twin girls were born dangerously premature, with a slim chance they would have normal lives after barely surviving birth eight years ago.
“They eventually came home and beat those odds,” said the 40-year-old father, who treasures the time he's had to discover new facets of his young fighters while working from home in Brooklyn during the coronavirus pandemic.
Like millions of dads around the globe, Gandhi has taken on more responsibilities at home during lockdown. There have been challenges with distance learning, for one, which have revealed important lessons about his girls.
“I learned more about their different personalities in school,” he said. “While one is quiet and reserved, which is the opposite at home, the other is engaged and raises her hand to participate non-stop, also the reverse at home. I saw their evolving interests, whether arts and sciences or math, and how much more they support each other than I thought.”
Other fathers, including those who already were entrenched in housework, child care and meal prep, have developed a newfound respect for the “second shift,” a term coined in the 1980s after research showed that women still shouldered most duties at home despite working outside jobs.
“I’ve almost perfected my one-trick repertoire of girls' hairstyles that is the pony tail,” joked 46-year-old Anthony Bianco, who became the primary caregiver in Brisbane, Australia, to two daughters, ages 6 and 9, as his wife works as a community nurse.
He lost a job last October and has been home since another fell through in February, before pandemic chaos ensued.
“I’ve been the primary caregiver, including doing most of the remote learning,” he said. “It's made us closer. I’ve also realized that people take teachers way too much for granted.”
Pediatrician Craig Garfield studies the roles of fathers in their children’s lives and is a professor of pediatrics and medical social sciences at Northwestern University in Chicago.
“The pandemic has reshaped the way fathers are involved with their families and children,” he said via email. "Whether it's play, reading a book or getting down on the floor and spending time with their kids, this is an unprecedented opportunity for fathers to be really involved.”
According to one preliminary study, 45% of fathers said they have spent more time taking care of children under 6 than they did before the coronavirus scare sent them home.
The researchers, Daniel L. Carlson of the University of Utah, Richard Petts of Ball State University and Joanna R. Pepin of the University of Texas-Austin, surveyed 1,060 U.S. parents in mixed-gender marriages in late April to see how divisions of housework and child care may have changed since the beginning of the pandemic.
Stay-at-home orders were issued and schools, child care centers and non-essential businesses were shuttered, putting a strain on families and demolishing barriers between work and home. Millions of people lost their jobs.
The preliminary study found that 43% of fathers reported pitching in more with care of older children, and 42% reported an overall increase in housework time. The percentages of mothers who said their partners increased their time doing housework and caring for children were markedly lower, from 20 percent to 34 percent, according to the study.
“The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle,” Garfield said.
There was no such disagreement on what mothers have been doing. More than one-quarter of both fathers and mothers reported an increase in the housework and child care that mothers perform.
“I think of single parents with two kids and a job that obligates them to show up in person. What does one do? In the beginning, it felt like my wife and I were making life-changing decisions on a nearly daily basis,” said Zach Kubin, who left New York City for Connecticut in March with his family.
Kubin, 37, and his wife have two children, ages 3 and a year and a half. Both parents are working full time at home. Before the pandemic, Kubin spent most of his time on the road meeting with clients as head of sales for an advertising tech company.
“I wouldn’t say I’ve become the ‘primary caregiver,’” Kubin said. “More that I’ve become a `caregiver.' I make the milk. I change the diapers. I think about what to do for lunch and dinner. Things that I usually would just do on the weekend are now things that require thought every day."
In Boston, 33-year-old Bouba Dieme is particularly vulnerable to the new virus as he awaits a heart transplant. He and his wife have both been working full time at home since March while pitching in with their three boys, a 5-year-old and year-old twins.
They're among the lucky. Their nanny has continued to come during the day throughout lockdown.
Dieme used to commute about 90 minutes each way to his office at a consortium working on energy efficiency at utility companies. His wife is a director at a Federal Reserve bank.
“We've been tag teaming on the older son's schooling,” Dieme said. “I feel very grateful. We're much more appreciative of the little things. I'm very patient by nature, but the kids can really take me to the limits. It was a matter of learning to be more patient and getting more creative with the kids.”
Two years ago, 34-year-old Tyler Moore left his job as a school administrator in New York to return to the classroom. He's been teaching remotely. His wife left her job as a pediatric occupational therapist prior to the birth of their third child earlier this year just as the pandemic struck.
“One of my greatest challenges with working and caring for the girls has been that I don’t feel like I'm doing any one thing well. Not until I tried to balance teaching, parenting and helping around the house did I truly feel the weight of this,” Moore said.
“Before the quarantine I really struggled to understand some of the frustrations that my wife had with caring for our girls, managing the household and crossing things off her to-do list,” he said. “Her primary frustration is that she never seemed to get as much done as she thought she would and that she never had thinking time or alone time. I totally get that now.”